The answer to this question is yes and no. I will explain throughout the course of this article. The requirements for a CPA career vary slightly from state to state. There are some required accounting classes and associated credits that prospective accountants must achieve prior to qualifying for a career as a certified public accountant. It is mandatory that a CPA has a bachelor’s degree, however, it does not have to be in any field in particular. There is a misconception that prospective accountants must have accounting degrees. As aforementioned, this is not the case, however, if the degree is in a different major, some coursework will be required leading up to taking the official CPA exam.
What is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)?
A certified public accountant (CPA) is a high-level accountant who is licensed to offer certain services and perform associated tasks including writing up drafted financial documents and statements. The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy cites many reasons why becoming a CPA can lay the groundwork for a successful financial career. The requirements differ according to state residency. It is never required to achieve a master’s degree to become a CPA, however, an advanced degree in accounting opens doors for CPAs and offers more room to grow in the profession.
How Long Does it Take to Become a CPA?
From start to finish it generally takes five years to become an official CPA. This length of time takes into account achieving a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a different field and then the practice and accomplishment of passing the CPA exam. Obviously a master’s degree track tacks on at least two additional years.
How to Become a CPA Without a Degree in Accounting
As aforementioned, there is no required major to become a CPA. It is helpful, however, if those who are interested in this field choose something related to finances, business, or of course accounting. AICPA (American Institute of CPAs) requires prospective accountants to have a minimum of 150 credit hours in undergraduate coursework. Following completion of an undergraduate degree program, prospective accountants generally take a preparatory course that prepares them to sit for the CPA exam or matriculate into a related master’s degree program in accounting or something similar. The credit requirements to sit for the exam can be either option, a preparatory program, or a master’s degree option. Many people decide to forgo the master’s degree and go with the preparatory course option as it is much more expedient and affordable. A master’s degree, however, enables you to specialize your program to the niche of the financial sector that interests you. The other thing about a master’s degree that is enticing is that prospective accountants with such credentials are more employable. Not only does the rate for employability go up with a master’s degree, but so does the earning potential.
According to payscale with a bachelor’s degree in accounting one can make an average salary of $62,327. Remember, this is an average. What this means is the high end is $100,000 for the position of a corporate controller and the low end is $47,000 for a staff accountant. The Payscale data for a master’s degree in accounting is $70,805. The high end is $134,000 for the position of a chief controller and the low end is the position of a staff accountant for $53,000.
Learning format is an excellent thing to consider prior to picking an accounting program that is right for you. There are many online bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in accounting that are delivered entirely online. Some of these programs offer asynchronous classes which means students have no set log-in times and can look move through their coursework at their own pace and at the time that works best for them. Sometimes these programs don’t require any in-person sessions, meaning students can complete their class requirements from anywhere in the world. This type of learning cuts down on commute times and allows students to work while participating in their program. This can also give them the freedom to have an internship or participate in relevant fieldwork.
Back to the initial question: You can become a Certified Public Accountant with a bachelor’s degree and the additional preparatory coursework to pass the CPA exam. That is a critical component of gaining licensure in the field of accounting. A master’s degree is certainly beneficial, but not a requirement, and a bachelor’s in another discipline will suffice. It is suggested, however, that the program is in a related field, or at least ties into coursework that includes business and finances.